Villainous Archetypes: Mad Scientist

A more modern name for the Mad Scientist is the Hacker. A more ancient name is the Wizard. Any way you want to name it, this is the Villainous archetype that defines itself by a strong emphasis on the Magician archetype in Jungian terminology. In that method of viewing psyche and personality, the Magician (or Wizard) is the part of a person that wants to know how things work and to make things happen. Specialized, secret, and hidden knowledge is its special interest, and mastery of skills is how it achieves this ability to turn esoteric knowledge into extraordinary action.

Mad scientists are the ones willing to do what others are not, and who can see past the constraints that (rightly, it must be admitted) keep the normal scientists in line and moving slowly toward new knowledge. That slow, methodical way of working gives great results to society at large, who has little idea of the knowledge and patience required for it, but benefits from the accumulated advances. To break with the tried and true methods, to circumvent the normal scientific process itself, that is indeed most often a form of madness. You’d have to be crazy to think that striking out in a strange new direction is a good idea when so many good ideas have come from what has been accepted as received wisdom.

Unless, of course, you have noticed that the best ideas actually tend to come from those strange new directions.

Looks crazy. But what if he’s right?

Looks crazy. But what if he’s right?

The Magician is a psychological archetype because it constellates the drive to master technology and rare knowledge. The Mad Scientist is a Villainous archetype because he has a disruptive disregard for how one is “supposed to” come by that knowledge, let alone how to use it. He knows that the usual method of such things is slow, arduous, and horribly uncertain. He also knows that trudging down that path with everyone else will yield results just like everyone else, and his mind recoils at that. Applying the very method of scientific observation to science itself, he realizes that its methods are insufficient to its potential.

Now, this may or may not be consciously thought through like that. Our Mad Scientist may simply notice that there are topics being studiously avoided, and that studying them might be both useful and fun. He may decide that a miserable return on investments is pointless when looking at markets differently can advance his cause both more quickly and more reliably. He may have an insatiable curiosity about networks, data, people’s quirks, mechanics, and finds that there are pathways there which are generally unknown, unused, or considered taboo. In any of these cases, his explorations lead him to put things together in ways few if any would imagine. This is the original meaning of the term “to hack.”

It's A Hack

I should probably point out that I am sick of every method of making life more efficient or effective being called a “hack.” Certainly, they appear to be hacks from the point of view of those who have never hacked anything, but an actual hack is on a different level of existence than these useful little tricks, having another dimension and on the way to something else. It’s the difference between calling special, strong coffee a “waking up hack” versus carefully using nootropics to finish a program or conduct a heist.

What must be kept in mind is that the Mad Scientist’s twin ambitions are to understand what is really going on, and to do something interesting with that knowledge. One may be on the way to the other, but when you get down to it, their priorities are pretty well equal.

The Mad Scientist/Hacker is an archetype that I believe most Proper Villains should reach for and develop within themselves. It is simply too useful to ignore. A drive to know and understand must be cultivated by everyone who wishes to be independent, or even worth a tinker’s cuss, and anyone who wants to stand apart from the crowd – visibly or not – would do well to see things in ways others do not. As I frequently tell my protégés, if you don’t want to be part of the herd, be careful not to think like them. Many virtues are also encouraged by building this sort of mentality, among them focus, perseverance, clarity of thought, a view than can shift between big picture and detail oriented, and emotional independence. As you might expect, combining it with other archetypes is not only possible, but it tends to strengthen their goals and abilities.

The main thing to consider when selecting an alias for a Mad Scientist is whether to be open about it. Those in a position of relative power can be quite direct in their researches if they want. Others, who have livelihoods which actually appear to be the “non-mad” version, such as programmers or researchers, may want to keep their other methods and abilities to themselves, and use their day job as a sort of cover. After all, we don’t call ourselves Villains because it’s the accepted way to be. One very useful approach is to have a hobby which appears completely innocuous, a frivolous thing you do on the side, but which runs far deeper than anyone would expect.

In any case, I strongly advise against announcing one’s successes with maniacal laughter for all to hear, however tempting it is. The townsfolk may not use literal torches and pitchforks any more, but their ire is as obnoxious as ever. And nothing seems to annoy the herd more than discovering someone has found a better way which they are incapable or too lazy to do, themselves.

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